With a leap, a tipped pass and a rumble to the end zone, Ryan Kerrigan made himself a household name in Washington.
All those years ago, in the season opener of Kerrigan’s rookie year, the defensive end’s pick-6 off Giants quarterback Eli Manning set the tone for Kerrigan’s career trajectory. He was a star on a defense largely devoid of them during the 2010s, a decade full of losing seasons reprieved by only two playoff trips.
As Kerrigan prepares for the third playoff appearance of his career — facing Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Saturday — there’s also the looming question of what’s next. Kerrigan has been a fixture for Washington since the franchise selected him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Now, though, the path forward for Kerrigan is clouded. With the emergence of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, Kerrigan’s edge rushing duties have shrunk. He’s an unrestricted free agent once this season ends — so Kerrigan is in no rush for this season to end.
“It’s tough to really get too much into that, because it is a lot of unknowns,” Kerrigan said. “Hopefully it’s not [my last game for Washington], because that means we’re winning on Saturday. My focus is on Tampa Bay right now, and how we can keep this thing going.”
Kerrigan had started all 16 games in each of his first eight seasons with the team, and he reached at least 11 sacks in four of those campaigns.
When the team drafted Young with the second overall pick last offseason, though, the writing was on the wall for Kerrigan’s role to diminish. Kerrigan had started 139 straight games to begin his career, but a calf season forced him to miss some time last season.
And while he’s played in all 16 games this year, Kerrigan has received just one start. His defensive snap count has hovered in the mid-20s for most games, about half as many as Kerrigan once played.
But the 32-year-old has still produced despite the reduced opportunities. Kerrigan enters the wild-card round with 5.5 sacks and 17 tackles, valuable production from a player who’s now a change-of-pace option on the edge.
“[Adjusting to the role] had its challenges at times, you go from being in the 90s and whatnot in percentage played,” Kerrigan said. “I’ve really tried to make the most of it and try to capitalize when I’m in there on my reps.”
Kerrigan’s lasting legacy in Washington — should he leave this offseason or in the future — will no doubt primarily feature his 95.5 sacks, the most in franchise history. His 26 forced fumbles created game-changing moments, and his durability through much of his tenure was commendable.
But another part of Kerrigan’s legacy will be the leadership role he assumed, coaxing his eventual replacements into the league — while simultaneously reducing his own chances on the field. In the 2020-21 campaign, Washington’s defensive line has shown bite, with young talent playing up to their potential.
“That’s the importance of having a vet that sits there and accepts the responsibility and the role. And by doing so, you got Chase and Montez that sit there and they admire the guy,” coach Ron Rivera said on SiriusXM NFL Radio in October. “First of all, they admire him because they watched him play when they were growing up. Second, they admire him for the type of leadership that he’s displaying. Every day he goes out there, he practices the way you’re supposed to. Then when he gets the chances to play, he’s made hay.”
Whenever Kerrigan’s time in Washington concludes — be that after Saturday’s wild card game or later down the line — his production in 10 seasons won’t be undervalued. And even as Kerrigan opts to focus on the short-term rather than the uncertainty that will follow this offseason, he can appreciate what he accomplished for the Burgundy and Gold.
“A lot of guys will sign these four- or five-year extensions, but sometimes years four and five aren’t really going to happen,” Kerrigan said. “And I’m fortunate that I got to play out both of the contracts that I’ve signed here. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but I know that I’m proud of that, that I’ve got to play out both of my deals.”
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